Good writing can take a complex idea and make it understandable, but storytelling can transform that idea into an inspiring narrative that captures the reader's curiosity and imagination.
Understand Your Audience and CTA
Writing in plain language is often more difficult, especially when it's a complicated topic. That's why it's essential to understand your audience and the goal of your content before you even begin your outline, interviews or story.
If you're writing on a first in-human surgical technique, for example, how you approach the story depends on whether you're writing for surgeons or potential patients. Ask yourself what angle would capture their interest and keep them engaged throughout the piece.
Conduct the Right Amount of Research
While research is paramount to your story preparation, avoid getting caught in research paralysis. It's easy to get sidetracked by trying to consume everything about a topic before the first interview. Excessive research wastes valuable time and the opportunity for the subject matter expert to explain something in their own words.
If you're under a deadline, make your research count. What are the basic concepts you need to understand? What are the latest findings in peer-reviewed publications and trade media? What are the controversies and different ideas being explored? These can help you develop questions for your interview that will help your subject matter expert dive deeper into a topic.
Structure your interviews to get the most out of your expert's time. Don't focus on basic concepts or have them regurgitate their work. Ask instead what led them to the work in the first place. Have them walk you through a certain moment or tell a story that could be developed into a lead or narrative.
What did they find most interesting during the process? How do they see it impacting their field? Asking an open-ended question at the interview's conclusion allows the expert to share some aspect of their career or project you may have missed. Some questions could be:
- "Was there something you thought I'd ask and didn't?"
- "Anything else you'd like to share about your work?"
- "Any tips or resources you want to share for people interested in learning more about the topic?"
Use Analogies and Comparisons
Don't be afraid to use analogies to engage your audience and help them understand the significance—then go one step further. Using multimedia or even an "inside-baseball" example that your audience will understand also increases engagement.
When explaining complicated topics, whether it’s blockchain or immunotherapy, engaging your audience with curiosity, imagination and storytelling can help drive home your message and inspire your reader to action.
Elizabeth Whittington is Director, Executive Communications at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.